Celebrate the Spinosaurus on National Fossil Day

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Say hello to the Spinosaurus. (© Davide Bonadonna / National Geographic magazine.)
National Fossil Day is the perfect time to say hello to the Spinosaurus, the first semiaquatic dinosaur. (© Davide Bonadonna / National Geographic magazine.)

Oct. 15 is National Fossil Day, the celebration of old bones. This year there are tons to celebrate, literally. I’m talking about the scientific unveiling of the first semiaquatic dinosaur, the spinosaurus aegyptiacus, estimated to have weighed 7 to 9 tons. We’re talking about a beast larger than a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Spinosaurus specs say they were probably 57 feet long and up to 27 feet high. These water lovers gulped down full sharks and small dinosaurs. By comparison, a Tyrannosaurus weighed 6 to 8 tons, were 43 feet long and 19 feet high.

Although the first fossils of a Spinosaurus were found in Egypt in 1912, a full skeleton of one was discovered in Morocco last year, and after much scientific research and analysis, a report was published Sept. 11 on the Science Express website and the October issue of National Geographic magazine featured it as their cover story.

I’ve often lost hours zipping around dinosaur websites reading findings and theories. While writing this story, I learned Spinosaurus means “spine lizard” and the name refers to the tall spines on its vertebrae, some of which are 6 feet high. Scientists believe these bones formed a sail that might’ve helped regulate body temp on really hot or cold days. The Spino’s powerful arms and skull are estimated to have measured 5 feet in length each.

The snout of a Spinosaurus has been called crocodile-like. National Geographic funded a digital reconstruction, and its depiction shows a head that could breathe from its nose while its jaw could’ve been underwater.

Now, I’ll tell you a true story that sounds as preposterous as bad writing in a B-movie. University of Chicago’s Nizar Ibrahim is a well-respected paleontologist. (I’ll save you a Google search: Paleontology is the science related to fossils of animals and plants that lived very long ago especially in the time of dinosaurs.) Ibrahim, who began his hunt for the Spinosaurus in 2008, met a man with a mustache in Morocco. He was a fossil hunter and showed Ibrahim some unusual samples.

“One piece looked really interesting. It was a blade-shaped piece of bone and I did think at the time that maybe this is a chunk of the spine of Spinosaurus,” Ibrahim told CNN.

So, when paleontologists from the Natural History Museum in Milan showed Ibrahim bone samples from what they believed were a Spinosaurus years later, he set out to track down the mustached man. After searching unsuccessfully for five years, Ibrahim gave up on finding Mr. Mustache and sat down for a cuppa tea in Morocco. Here’s the badly written B-movie part: A man walked by and guess who it was? Yup, it was the man with the mustache. Geez. What are the chances of that happening?

Ibrahim had Mr. Mustache take him back to the site where he’d discovered the bones, and that’s where more excavations turned up bones from, most likely, the same Spinosaurus.

On the National Fossil Day’s website you can watch the countdown until celebration day, Oct. 15. After losing all these hours reading about paleontology while writing this story, it seems I’ve celebrated NPD a tad early this year.

Luckily, there’s still plenty of time to catch the NOVA National Geographic special “Bigger Than T-Rex” on PBS Wednesday, Nov. 5 at 9 p.m.

Watch the trailer:

For more fun, here’s a time-lapse video of the installation of the Spinosaurus skeleton at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C. The exhibit will be up until April 12. Here’s how to get tickets.

Dorri Olds is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine

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